Monday, November 1, 2010

Skowhegan overcomes hurdles for Peace Walk

Bridge vigil goes on as scheduled

SKOWHEGAN -- Nobama. No peace. No permit. No problem.

Mark Roman speaks out against funding the wars the United States government is involved in while he and others, including Lisa Savage, left, Lynne Harwood and Abby Shahn, carried signs on the Margaret Chase Smith Bridge in Skowhegan on Sunday. The group has protested for years.
   A silent vigil to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan went on Sunday on the Margaret Chase Smith Bridge, just as vigils have since 2002.
   A loose assembly of anti-war protesters, some affiliated with Waterville Area Bridges for Peace and Justice, others with Code Pink, others with no affiliation at all, displayed placards to bring war funding home Sunday.
   They met without a permit, despite the possibility raised last week by the town manager of Skowhegan who said they might need one, or face possible police action. It was to be a small, quiet assembly to draw attention to the war, but also to highlight the rights of free speech and free assembly, organizer Mark Roman, of Solon, said.
   "I hope it won't be a problem," Roman said from the bridge Sunday. "It hasn't been for the past eight years."
   Roman met with the Skowhegan Board of Selectmen and Town Manager John Doucette Jr. last week to secure a permit for another event, a peace march on Nov. 4, when the matter of Sunday vigil permits was raised.
   Roman obtained the parade permit for the march, but balked when he was told he might need one for the bridge vigils.
   Doucette said he would contact the town attorney for a reading of Skowhegan's ordinance for groups assembling. He said the town was not trying to limit free speech, but simply to legitimize it for public safety.
   Roman disagreed, saying it was a constitutional right to peacefully assemble.
   "This bridge is named after Margaret Chase Smith, who stood up to Joe McCarthy when he was saying things that were just ridiculous and said let's just speak common sense," Roman said. "All we are doing is being a voice for what we represent, for peace. There's so many reasons we need peace.
   "Free speech does have something to do with this, and free assembly. It's not trying to be in anyone's face. We seem to get a lot of support, though, from people driving by so far."
   In the end Sunday, there were no police and no violations.
   Doucette said Kenneth Lexier, the town's attorney, examined the ordinance and said the assembly did not need a permit, after all.
   "The lawyer agrees, the ordinance doesn't apply," Doucette said. "They don't need a permit. He said they don't need it, based on what he's reading in the ordinance. It's over with as far as we're concerned. The ordinance does not stop them from gathering; we don't have anything for gathering in there. It's marching and parades, which are moving and hindering traffic."
   Roman said he and others are still out on the bridge every Sunday, even with a liberal Democrat in the White House, because nothing really has changed with President Barack Obama.
   "The policy on the war has not changed one iota -- in fact, he's escalated the war, especially in Afghanistan," Roman said. "There are way more drone strikes, the killing of civilians; it hasn't changed. This is a nonpartisan issue -- this is war."
   On the matter of free speech, one vigil participant said constitutional rights already have been eroded in America.
   "Mark is kind of naive -- nothing's free, even free speech," said James Fangbone, who carried a sign condemning the use of depleted uranium in the wars.
   "You've got to pay for speech; why do you think they open up all this cash so people could run these political ads -- ads are speech and obviously it's not free."
Doug Harlow -- 474-9534
Staff photo by David Leaming

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